The snare drum has become an integral part of drum kits used in every genre of modern music but its roots go way back, to well before the dawn of popular music. The snare drum history is fascinating. Most music historians trace today’s version to Medieval Europe and a drum known as the Tabor which first appeared about the 14th century. The name refers to the single strand snare found in each two headed model—and you can bet those heads weren’t from Remo or Evans. Calves skin or deer skin was certainly more likely. The Tabor is still in use today in European folk music.
In the 16th century the armies of the Ottoman Empire employed a rudimentary snare as one of the instruments for their marching music. Apparently Swiss mercenaries took to these drums because instruments very similar in conical shape and style began appearing in Swiss fife and drum outfits. These snare drums featured a deeper body and were worn along the side of the drummer and were shouldered using a strap.
Snare Drum Advancements
Tensioning in the drums is seen in the 1500’s using a lacing procedure much like that used for shoes. In the 17th century drum makers began fixing snares with screws to deliver a tighter, brighter sound without as much rattle. All snare drums were made of wood until the 20th century when the first metal versions were crafted. Recently, a patented was awarded to the Nolan Page Drum Company for a snare drum body made form solid crystal.
To fully grasp snare drum history it is important to understand its use by armies through the centuries. This instrument is just right for providing a marching cadence and has also been used in communication with different tunes used to broadcast various messages in camp, on the trail and on the battle field. The military influence in its development continues to shape the way the instrument is played today.